Special Olympics Alberta Grande Prairie’s Mark Heartt wins the Special Olympics Canada Coach of the Year Award.

Volunteer Recognition

Mark Heartt’s decades long career with Special Olympics all started with a dance.

By Sarah Spisak

Mark Heartt has been part of Special Olympics for the last 20 years thanks to his wife, Tracy, inviting him to the Special Olympics BC award ceremony and dance in 2004.

“I agreed to ‘go to a dance’ with her and it was this,” Mark says.

Tracy was the local coordinator for Dawson Creek, BC Special Olympics at the time and was presenting at the award ceremony. 

“I had an incredible time and was hooked. I’ve been involved ever since.”

After over 15 years with Special Olympics BC, Tracy and Mark moved to Alberta in June of 2021 and continued to volunteer with Special Olympics together in Grande Prairie. Mark started coaching with Special Olympics again in October of that year.

“My favorite part of Special Olympics is being with and around the athletes, whether I am coaching, acting as a mission staff to Provincial Games or volunteering at an event. I have so many incredible moments and memories being part of these events.

“Being able to do these events with my wife is an added bonus-although she likes to remind me that she is usually my ‘boss’ at these things,” Mark laughs.

On November 2, Mark was awarded the Special Olympics Canada Coach of the Year award for his years of passion and dedication as a curling coach in Special Olympics BC and Alberta.

“To be honest, winning this award has been beyond humbling,” Mark says. “I never dreamed that something that brings me so much joy could also bring me this kind of recognition.”

Mark coaches his Special Olympics Grande Prairie curling team every Monday night and says it’s the best part of his week.

“It doesn’t matter how bad my day might have been at work,” Mark says. “Once I get to the rink, it all evaporates. I always leave smiling.”

Curling is a huge personal passion for Mark, and he has been competitively curling since he was a young boy. He has played in several provincial playdowns from juniors, mixed, mens, and now senior mens, and says he can see himself curling well into his retirement years.

Mark has always been a curling coach no matter which chapter of Special Olympics he has been coaching with but says that his favourite memory is from before he started coaching and ended up as a last-minute volunteer for a Provincial Games in BC.

“My wife was a mission staff going to Provincial Games on the island and at the last minute, a different mission staff got sick, so Lois McNary, VP of Sport for BC Special Olympics asked if I would fill in.

“We went to Prince George to get on our charter flights to the island.  My wife and her group left at 3:30 a.m. and left me to go with the next group at 8 a.m. I was feeling a little ‘out of my element’ and we were getting ready to board. I was focused on accounting for all the athletes, so much so, that as the last one was boarding, he walked up to me and said, ‘hey coach, you might need to bring your bag’,” Mark laughs.

“Thank God he was looking after me! They were so good to me, and it was such a great first experience.”

Since then, Mark has had many wonderful experiences with Special Olympics leading up to him winning this National award and says there are many people that he could thank for the opportunities he’s had in the organization.

“The list is long,” Mark says. “But, truly without the athletes, none of us would have the opportunity to volunteer for such an amazing organization. It is them that I thank the most. 

“To those I have coached personally, as well as the ones I have met at Games; thank you.”